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Biden rejects calls for US defense secretary removal

The Biden administration said that defense chief Lloyd Austin still has the US president's confidence after Austin failed to report a temporary absence for a medical procedure.

US President Joe Biden does not plan to fire Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin after the defense chief failed to disclose a hospital stay to the White House for several days. 

"The president has complete confidence, continues to have confidence in Secretary Austin," Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters traveling with Biden aboard Air Force One.

"The number one thing is we want to see him get well and back at the Pentagon," she said.

"There is no plan or anything other than for Secretary Austin to stay in the job and continuing the leadership that has been exhibited," Kirby said.

The White House said it plans to examine its processes and procedures to see if any need to be modified, "so that we can learn from this." 

Austin remains in the hospital but has returned to his regular duties. The Pentagon said Austin was put into intensive care on January 1 after experiencing complications following an "elective medical procedure" in late December. 

What was the controversy about?

The Pentagon waited until Friday evening to announce that Austin, 70, had been hospitalized at the Walter Reed military hospital in the Washington suburbs four days prior.

Biden and the White House were reportedly unaware of the hospitalization.

Typically, high-ranking cabinet officials report planned medical absences ahead of time. 

The apparent breach of protocol comes at a time when the US is embroiled in a crisis in the Middle East.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is currently in Israel, aiming to prevent the conflict in Gaza from spilling over to the rest of the region. 

Air Force Major General Patrick Ryder, the chief Pentagon spokesperson, later said that some of Austin's authorities were transferred to his deputy, Kathleen Hicks. Hicks, who was in Puerto Rico at the time, was not told the reason for the transfer of authorities until January 4.

As a result, Republicans called for Austin to resign or be sacked.

Donald Trump — former US President and likely Biden's Republican challenger in the 2024 election — said Austin should be fired for his "improper professional conduct and dereliction of duty."

"He has been missing for one week, and nobody, including his boss ... had a clue as to where he was," Trump wrote on his social media platform, Truth Social.

What has Austin said? 

The US defense chief took responsibility for the delays in notification, in a statement on Saturday evening.

"I recognize I could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed. I commit to doing better," he said.

"But this is important to say: this was my medical procedure, and I take full responsibility for my decisions about disclosure."

The Pentagon has said that Austin was carrying on with business from his stay at the hospital. On Monday, he had calls with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, General Erik

Kurilla, who heads US troops in the Middle East, and other senior national security leaders.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the US President respected Austin for "taking ownership." 

Kirby added that there are no plans of action on the matter, other than for Austin "to stay in the job and continue the leadership that has been exhibited."

Source: Dw

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